Innovation That Matters

Temporary tattoo could replace pin-prick blood tests for diabetics

Sport & Fitness

A simple, miniature tech device embedded on a temporary tattoo could provide a non-invasive alternative to diabetics' daily blood tests.

For kids, temporary tattoos are a fun way to pretend you’re a real grown up. But do they have actual practical uses for adults? We recently saw I Tradizionali create temporary tattoos that feature recipes so users don’t get distracted by cookbooks or tablets while they’re baking. However, graduate students at the University of California, San Diego have now developed a possible life changing use for the disposable technology, producing a temporary tattoo for diabetics that monitors their blood glucose levels and avoids the need for the usual daily finger prick tests.

The devices work thanks to miniature, non-invasive technology that’s emedded in the tattoo itself. A pair of precisely patterned electrodes are printed onto the temporary tattoo paper, which is applied to the skin and applies a very mild electrical current. This process enables tiny sensors on the tattoo to detect glucose levels and output the data.

For the technically-minded who want to know how this works — the current causes sodium ions in the blood to migrate towards the electrodes. The ions carry glucose molecules with them, affecting the strength of electrical charge produced and allowing the sensors to track how much glucose is present.

Since the tattoo is disposable, it can be applied to check glucose levels once and then simply thrown away. It also helps diabetics to replace the somewhat painful and annoying process of having to take blood samples everyday.

The San Diego team, led by Joseph Wang, has recently published its positive findings in the Analytical Chemistry journal. They plan to develop the product into something more durable and research continues on a related device which will enable numerical readings. Are there other medical uses for this cheap and decorative product?



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